What’s in Your Trail Mix?

Trail mix with scoop Photo (detail): Marcos Paulo Prado © Unsplash

The FDA supplies guidelines on food defect levels for manufacturers, which begs the question: just how much of our food is contaminated? In this infographic, Kate Sammer quantifies the defect levels in one popular snack.

Kate Sammer and Savannah Beck

When I was a kid, a friend of mine convinced me that raisins were bugs whose legs had been plucked off. Eventually, I found out the truth, and thankfully, I was able to enjoy a few years of ignorant bliss before I discovered the far more disturbing reality. While raisins are indeed dried grapes, there’s really a lot more to them – mold, sand, grit, and Drosophila eggs, for instance.

In fact, a lot of common foods have defects like these. So much so that the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has published this helpful handbook for manufacturers to shed light on which defects are no-no’s and which are perfectly edible. In their guidelines, the FDA meticulously lists the wide array of possible defects and sets legal limits on contaminants known as “food defect action levels.” For clarity’s sake, the FDA also includes a glossary for the layperson who is unfamiliar with jargon like “whole or equivalent insect” (that’s a whole insect, separate head, or body portions with head attached, in case you were wondering).

There probably aren’t as many rodent hairs in your chocolate as you’re thinking.

Before you get too carried away, let’s take a moment to reflect on the words of Friedrich Nietzsche: “What does not kill me makes me stronger.” Technically, Nietzsche wasn’t talking about maggots in your orange juice when he wrote this, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t apply! You can rest assured that a few bugs in your breakfast won’t kill you; none of these defects are actually hazardous to humans. On the contrary, a few bugs could actually be a healthy addition to your diet. And there probably aren’t as many rodent hairs in your chocolate as you’re thinking. The FDA writes: “It is incorrect to assume that because the FDA has an established defect action level for a food commodity, the food manufacturer need only stay just below that level. The defect levels do not represent an average of the defects that occur in any of the products – the averages are actually much lower.”

But still... How much of what we eat is contaminated? Are you getting your daily percent value of protein through all these hidden insect larvae? In this infographic, Kate Sammer conducts a mini-investigation into food defect action levels by zeroing in on one beloved snack: trail mix.

You might also like